Photo Essay

  • A car pulled over for suspected drunk driving.  They were released without incident.
  • Officers arrest two men.  The man on the left is being arrested for a DUI and the man on the right is being restrained after resisting arrest.  He was also booked for intoxication.
  • Officer Jesse Jack (not pictured) talks to two women he suspects of public intoxication.  They were permitted to leave.
  • This man is being restrained after resisting arrest.  He was also booked for intoxication.
  • A young woman pours out beer after the driver of her car was pulled over and arrested for a DUI.  She blew a 0.0 on the Blood-Alcohol reading and was let go after emptying all of the alcoholic beverages found in the car.
  • A young woman talks to police after pouring confiscated beer onto the street. The driver of her car was pulled over and arrested for a DUI.  She blew a 0.0 on the Blood-Alcohol reading and was let go after emptying all of the alcoholic beverages found in the car.
  • A woman asks police to allow her to call a neighbor to take care of her children instead of calling child protective services.  Neighbors had called police reporting loud noises from the house and when Tribal Police arrived they found a number of intoxicated adults.  There were also several children sleeping. The adults were arrested.
  • A child peers through a door as her family members are arrested for intoxication.  Neighbors had called police reporting loud noises from the house and when Tribal Police arrived they found a number of intoxicated adults.  There were also several children sleeping. The adults were arrested, and as we moved onto another call, the officers remaining were working with the mother to find a neighbor to watch the children.
  • A BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) officer talks to a young man to ask him to identify an alleged culprit after he and another man were beaten with a baseball bat in Pine Ridge, SD. They are in the ER of the hospital for treatment of their injuries.
  • A BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) officer tries to resuscitate a young man who fainted in the ER after he and the individual to the left were beaten with a baseball bat. When police arrived, the man who inflicted the beating fled into the dark, though he was later caught.  He was brought into the hospital and positively identified as the culprit. The unconscious man regained consciousness.
  • Officer Jesse Jack transfers an intoxicated man who had been in a fight from the hospital to the 'Drunk Tank' at the corrections facility.
  • A neighbor talks to Tribal Police after two young men were beaten with a baseball bat in front of his home. When police arrived, the man who inflicted the beating fled into the dark, though he was later caught. The two young men were taken to the ER.
  • Officer Becki Sotherland patrols Manderson, a small town in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. 74.6% of the Manderson population lives below the Poverty Line.
  • Two young women are stopped by Tribal Police after two young men were beaten with a baseball bat nearby. When police arrived, the man who inflicted the beating fled into the dark, though he was later caught. The two young men were taken to the ER.
  • Officer Jesse Red Wing walks into a home after neighbors complained of loud drunken noises coming from the residence.  One man was taken into custody to spend eight hours in the 'Drunk Tank' to sober up.
  • Officer Jesse Red Wing arrests a man for intoxication.  He was asleep at the wheel of his car which was pulled over to the side of the road.  Being drunk on the reservation is illegal and after being arrested most spend eight hours in the 'Drunk Tank' before being released.
  • A man about to be arrested for intoxication after he was caught asleep at the wheel of his car which was pulled over to the side of the road.  Being drunk on the reservation is illegal and after being arrested most spend eight hours in the 'Drunk Tank' before being released.
  • A young man is arrested by Officer Jesse Jack for beating two men with a baseball bat.  He was brought into the ER to be identified by the victims.  He was positively identified by them as well as by the officers, who had chased him after he fled the scene of the crime.
  • A young man arrested for beating two men with a baseball bat is brought into the ER to be identified by the victims.  He was positively identified by them as well as by the officers, who had chased him after he fled the scene of the crime.
  • Officer Jesse Red Wing talks to a woman that called the Tribal Police after she heard an argument and a fight behind her house.  They were gone when Red Wing arrived on the scene.
  • This man was taken into custody after neighbors complained of loud drunken noises coming from the residence.  He would spend eight hours in the 'Drunk Tank' to sober up.
  • An officer visits a room in the Prairie Wind Casino & Hotel after neighbors complained of drinking and shouting in this room and the adjoining one.  One man was arrested for intoxication and brought to spend eight hours in the 'Drunk Tank' at the local jail.
  • An officer visits a room in the Prairie Wind Casino & Hotel after neighbors complained of drinking and shouting in this room and the adjoining one.  This man was arrested for intoxication and brought to spend eight hours in the 'Drunk Tank' at the local jail.
  • Officers visit a room in the Prairie Wind Casino & Hotel after neighbors complained of drinking and shouting in this room and the adjoining one.  This man was arrested for intoxication and brought to spend eight hours in the 'Drunk Tank' at the local jail.
  • Officers visit a room in the Prairie Wind Casino & Hotel after neighbors complained of drinking and shouting in this room and the adjoining one.  This man was arrested for intoxication and brought to spend eight hours in the 'Drunk Tank' at the local jail.
  • Officers visit a room in the Prairie Wind Casino & Hotel after neighbors complained of drinking and shouting in this room and the adjoining one.  This man was arrested for intoxication and brought to spend eight hours in the 'Drunk Tank' at the local jail.
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Law and disorder on the Pine Ridge Reservation

Updated

Manderson, S.D.— About 35 tribal police officers on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation patrol 2 million rambling acres, an area larger than the states of Delaware and Rhode Island combined. But beyond the logistical headache of the job, it’s their mission.

Alcohol and drunkenness are illegal on the reservation and have been since 1889. The enforcement of the prohibition of alcohol consumes most of the crime-fighting resources the department has.

Drugs are a problem – weed, meth and cocaine are everywhere – but it’s almost exclusively alcohol that gives law enforcement on the reservation fits. 

“They go into detox or a holding cell for 8 hours then get an hour of community service,” said Officer Becky Sotherland with the tribal police. “Sometimes they’re out before your shift is over, causing trouble.”

Tribal police say that of the roughly 200,000 calls they receive each year, about 80% of them are alcohol-related in one way or another. Sometimes it’s public drunkenness, fights or domestic violence. Drunk driving is a major killer and youth advocates and community groups say alcoholism is a companion to the reservations plague-high suicide rate.

The unemployment rate on the reservation is about 80%. The poverty rate is more than 50%. And in Shannon County, which lies completely within the boundaries of the reservation, more than 40% of the population is under the age of 18. These statistics make for a volatile combination on the reservation, where a sense of hopelessness hangs in stark contrast to the beautiful landscape of rolling hills and buttes.

“What’s heartbreaking is that everything is preventable,” Officer Sotherland said on a recent afternoon. “I can try and try and try but if the people I’m trying to help don’t want to help themselves, than what I’m doing will be a moot point. And that’s the frustrating part.”

Alcohol has long been a fierce nemesis to the Lakota, but the fight to keep the tribe sober may soon be getting tougher. Over the summer, tribal members voted to repeal the century-old ban on liquor sales and consumption on the reservation. The repeal won’t likely take effect for some time, as the Tribal Council must write new alcohol related laws, by-laws and ordinances.

Deputy Chief of Police John Mousseau called the repeal “a double-sided sword.”

“Once we get it legalized we can stop dealing with the drunks and drunk calls and we can do more follow up on our burglaries and more in-depth police work,” Mousseau said. “But I also think it’ll probably increase the number of calls because people are going to be more out in the open with it.”

In the meantime, offers spend much of their time responding to a dizzying amount of drunkenness and alcohol-related misbehavior. Sometimes they’re rousing suspected imbibers from their beds. They’re pulling over drunken drivers and busting teenagers with cases of beer, often making them empty the contents at their feet. Sometimes they’re tracking bootleggers. (Almost everyone in the small housing clusters spread across the reservation knows who is selling what and where to get it.)

The scourge of alcohol has torn at the fabric of families here. Hunger is rampant. And the ongoing struggle to save young people from suicide has been a losing battle.

“I think it all puts an emotional strain on our police officers, not only are we police officers, we are parents, we are grandparents and when we see young life that is prematurely ended it takes an emotional impact,” Mousseau said. “From all these years of doing this, we have all of this emotional baggage.”

Still, there’s hope, he said.

“It kind of feels like we’re not making a dent, like we’re just running up hill. But we are still running and trying our best.”

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